By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Ethan Moore is proof that light can emerge from darkness.
Moore, who will graduate Friday with a bachelor’s degree in social work, grew up in poverty with his brother, Michael, and their alcoholic, drug addicted, mentally ill mother.
“I knew right away when I went to college that I wanted to study social work,” said Moore, 23, who grew up in Oxford and Holdrege. “I wanted to make sure the stuff that happened to me as a kid wouldn’t happen to other kids.”
Throughout his childhood, Moore endured physical and emotional abuse, and neglect.
“My brother and I raised each other. We were our only support system.”
For the first 18 months of his life, Moore had an untreated inner ear infection, which resulted in hearing loss. After getting ear tube surgery, he regained some hearing.
His hearing loss hindered his ability to learn, and he didn’t begin reading until the third grade.
“After that, I never put a book down. Reading was my escape,” he said.
Moore also suffered from sensory issues as a child such as not wanting to be touched or feeling overwhelmed by loud sounds.
Then, at 14 years old, he told his family he is gay.
His father, who abandoned the family when Moore was a young child, never spoke to him again. He died in 2013.
At first, Moore didn’t want to go to college. But he realized it was his only chance for a better life.
“I just didn’t want to be like my mother,” he said. “I knew education was my ticket out of poverty.”
Attending UNK allowed Moore to find people who accepted him.
“At UNK, there were people who were willing to listen to me,” Moore said. “Being gay, being atheist, being a child who was abused. There were a lot of people who wanted to listen.”
When he arrived on campus, he harbored a lot of anger from his childhood.
“I’m so much calmer now. I’m not such a firecracker. I was just so angry all the time. I am far more open-minded, less self-centered, a lot more generous and not so short sighted,” he said.
Moore has been able to cope with the trauma of his childhood by seeing a counselor in UNK’s Counseling Care Clinic.
“I realized that I deserve better,” Moore said.
During his undergraduate studies, Moore was involved with the Queer Straight Alliance and Free Thinkers, and he traveled to Turkey, Greece and South Korea. During all five years of college, Moore has worked full-time at Mosaic, an organization that serves people with intellectual disabilities.
Despite working 40-60 hours a week to support himself through college, Moore made his classes a priority, and he was recently accepted into the University of Nebraska at Omaha masters of social work program offered at UNK.
“I am blessed and privileged to be part of Ethan’s journey, and words fail to describe the love and pride that I feel at seeing him graduate from college,” said Maha Younes, professor and chair of the Department of Social Work. “Ethan’s life demonstrates the resilience and endurance of humanity, and is proof that light does emerge from darkness. He is intelligent, hardworking and is relentless in building a better life for himself and others,”
“I have seen Ethan suffer through struggles and insecurities, and have encouraged (and at times pushed) him to conquer them.”
Relationships with professors contributed to Moore’s success at UNK.
“Maha has been my college mom. She has guided me and has always been there to listen to me. I don’t know what I would have done without her,” he said.
Moore hopes to work with clients who are suffering from mental illness or trauma. He says he may even return to college to earn his Ph.D. to become a professor.
“It’s really easy for me to relate to other people. I’m very empathic. It’s hard as a client to have somebody whose life is all put together telling you how to get your life together,” Moore said.
Ethan’s brother, Michael, 28, graduated from UNK in 2009 with a degree in social work. They are the first in their family to graduate from college.
Moore hasn’t spoken with his mother in two years.
“Ethan’s journey is just beginning and there will be more barriers that he will have to overcome and pain to work through; none of that matters though because I have faith in him and know that he will accomplish great things and touch many lives,” Younes said. “He is a strong role model for all the young men who may feel abandoned and hopeless. He is a beacon of light, and he is someone near and dear to my heart. I will always be there for him and hope that he knows that.”